Thursday, July 22, 2021

Y Signal [Part III ~ Blindsided]

*Ray and Andrew are stuck between a rock and hard place in Lenny's abandoned apartment. Trapped between crazed killers and three story drop to their deaths, the boys decide to do the unthinkable: scale the building balconies down! But who is after them, and what was that mysterious broadcast that messed with Ray's mind? What does his missing cousin have to do with it? Before he gets any answers he'll have to survive the madness encircling him!*

"Y Signal"
By JD Cowan

Part 3: Blindsided

Ray descended the third floor balcony first, his backpack rattling behind him with the radio and notebook safely inside. His muscles strained, but it wasn’t any worse than climbing the many backyard fences around town—as long as he didn’t look down. Andrew waited above him as patiently as he could despite someone pounding on the apartment door inside. They didn't have the time to play it safe. Ray tried ignoring it all as he carefully shimmied down the bars towards the second floor.

Thankfully the metal bars were sturdy despite their thin nature. They allowed the boy to slide down and clasp his fingers on the bottom of the old grey platform. The cheap paint stained his fingers as his feet kicked for the top railing of the second floor balcony under him. Being eleven was only a real pain when your short stature came into play—like it did at this very moment. Ray stretched, doing his best to avoid looking down at certain death. His feet swung uselessly underneath him as he pushed himself.

“What’s wrong?” Andrew whispered from above. “Don’t tell me you’re too short?”

“Shut up! I don't need this right now.”

“Calm down and pay attention, Ray!”

There was no time to respond or doubt himself. Ray needed to make a gamble before his arms gave out and he met the earth below with his face. He swung himself back and forward. Warm air and sunlight brushed the back of his neck, but his sweating fingers were a bigger concern. On his third movement he pitched forward with all his strength and soared over the railing.

He landed hard on the balcony and his head hit into the bars on the opposite side. Blurry flashes of red light caused him to stumble on his knees. Sweat dripped across his eyes as he attempted to wipe them clean. Did he really just climb  down to the second floor?

Scuffling shoes landed beside the boy. Ray looked up as Andrew checked his friend’s certainly bruised forehead.

“You alright?” Andrew asked.

“Just need the buzzing in my head to stop then I'll be good. You’re fast, by the way.”

“I’ve done stupider things before. We should keep going before someone sees us out here.”

“Wait a second. Did you hear that?”

Cracking wood brought Ray’s attention back to the floor above them. Men shouted in the apartment that the boys had just abandoned moments ago. Ray could swear he heard furniture smashing and breaking. Had a fight broken out? Who was in there, anyway?

“This Lenny gave me the slip last month, but not this time,” someone said. “Last night’s broadcast said tonight was the last chance. Tell me where you're hiding him. The Y Signal is mine.”

A reedier voice grumbled. “You haven’t been chosen. I can tell by your smell. You belong in a dumpster, not paradise.”

“Say that to my face, psycho!” A loud thump echoed out of the apartment. "How about I fix your face to look as ugly as the rest of you?"

“Ray!” Andrew whispered. “Hurry up before they look out on the balcony. I don’t think they were searching for us, but I still don't want them to see us. They're here for that Y Signal you were talking about.”

They actually wanted this thing? Ray could barely process the stupidity on display. These punks wanted to get in on whatever madness Lenny had gotten himself into. They wouldn’t be so interested if they had any clue as to what that Y Signal was.

Or perhaps they did. Perhaps it was Ray that was missing the truth to this whole thing. After all, he only visited Yarbrough's world once. He might have missed something when he was there. Sure, it hurt, but was it really so bad? A warm nostalgia bathed his mind. He hadn't seen everything. Maybe if Ray visited that place a second time . . .

“Ray!” Andrew repeated.

Ray rubbed the bridge of his nose to fight off the growing migraine. What was he thinking? He could never go back to that place again. The boy exhaled a deep breath. “Sorry, Andrew, I drifted off. What do we do now?”

“The apartment this balcony belongs to is locked. I swear, no one lives in this stupid building. We need to head down again and we gotta do it faster. You gonna be okay?”

“I don’t have a choice. We can’t let them get this radio.”

“The radio? I just don't wanna die. What does that radio have to do with anything?”

Ray didn’t know, but a small voice buried in his jumbled thoughts told him to hold onto that stupid trinket no matter what happened. It was the only clue he had left to find Lenny, aside from that address book. All he needed to do was get past the first floor balcony, and survive the short drop to the ground floor. That should be easy enough! At least, he needed to tell himself it was. If he stopped to think about the insanity of what he was actually doing his guts would give out on him.

"Alright, Andrew. Let's go!"

Ray swung down on the balcony bars towards the next platform. He gripped onto the metal, his arms burning. The first floor was just ahead. This time Ray wasted little time finding his footing and touching down on the solid balcony. Just the ground level remained.

Andrew descended the opposite side and touched down beside him. How he moved so fast would always be a mystery to Ray. Andrew must have been part ape. The two each readied themselves on either end of the platform. They were almost out!

Shouts and crunching in the apartment above caused Ray to pause as he held onto the bars. The boy chanced a glance back up while he was still steadying himself for the jump.

The punk stared down at him from the top floor balcony. His sunken eyes glared at the two boys. Blood stained his bruised cheeks and his fat lip. He said nothing before swooping back into the apartment like a vampire.

“That freak’s coming down!” Ray said.

Andrew glanced around madly. “Who's coming?”

“The gross guy we saw on the stairs. We need to get to our bikes and get out of here.” Ray wasted no time bracing himself on the railing again. The ground was easily over ten feet down, and wouldn’t be a comfortable landing. He might even break something, or worse. There wasn’t much of a choice if he wanted to get away. “I’m making a leap for the grass. Once I land I'm going right for the bikes. We need to make it quick.”

“Wait a second, Ray!”

But he couldn’t. There was something in the way that punk stared at them in the hall and from the balcony that made it seem as if a piece of this guy was missing. That psycho wanted to catch them because they had what he wanted. Whatever that something was, Ray had no idea. It didn’t matter. All Ray knew was that he had to get away quick.

So he did.

Ray jumped from the first floor balcony with a bound. The summer sun baked his aching bones as he soared downwards and braced himself for a hard landing. Just before touching the grass, he hit it sideways in a roll. His backpack jiggled in his spin, rattling madly, and he hoped the radio didn’t break in his frantic momentum. Stings of red pain rippled across Ray’s arms and knees leading him to yelp as he flew across the grass off-kilter.

His sore legs trembled as he scrambled to stand back up. That fall hurt more than he let on, but he still had to get to his bicycle before that punk reached the bottom floor. Ray quickly regained his balance and flew towards the bikes lying on the walkway ahead of him.

A thud distracted him. Andrew shouted from behind. “Damn!

Ray chanced a glance back. Andrew rolled on the grass like a fish out of water. Ray’s friend slowly climbed to all fours, struggling to stand. A turtle on its back wouldn’t have looked more awkward than Andrew did at that moment in the middle of the grass. Ray rushed to his friend’s side, his ribs burning under the strain.

“My ankle won't move right,” Andrew said. “I think I twisted it.”

“Grab my shoulder. We just gotta get to the bikes and we can make tracks.”

The boys leaned against each other in their stumbling steps, moving much slower than Ray wanted them to. In any second, he expected the punk to burst out of the entranceway in a furious rage. It wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t seem like this entire neighborhood was completely vacant, meaning that he couldn’t even be sure anyone would come if they called for help. No one had heard the banging upstairs or had seen the two boys climb down to the ground floor, after all. It was like only the two kids existed in this world aside from the crazies chasing them. Ray pushed ahead with Andrew leaning on him, his mind on the bikes.

His tall friend groaned and swore with every awkward lope forward. Sweat poured down Ray’s neck as his muscles grinded with his jerky movements. Why did it feel like he was moving through molasses? A scream pitched out of the silent neighborhood from behind him. Andrew stumbled over to his bike and wobbled onto the seat and Ray followed. He didn't need to look back--knew who it was.


The punk ran out of the entranceway, his own legs wobbling like he had seen the front end of a Buick in rush hour. Ray cursed his luck and sat on his bike. This guy was too fast, despite his very obvious injuries.

Andrew shouted between clenched teeth as he tore out onto the road. Ray leaped onto his own bike and followed after his injured friend away from the building. They blitzed down the barren street, their speed a little sluggish at first, before they forced their legs to pedal like they hadn't before. The pair looked back only once.

The punk stood in the middle of the road, his formerly pale face a shade of red as he watched the two boys ride down the street and out of sight. All Ray could think about was where the other guy banging on the upstairs apartment went. He hoped the idiot just ran away or something. Ray let the thought fade and focused on the road ahead. The bloody punk soon faded from memory as they turned off St. Hubert Street.

The two boys rode down the road, Andrew falling back to let Ray take the lead. His face paled sheet white. Wherever they were going had to be a place they wouldn’t be followed to, or be alone in. Ray’s friend needed to rest, and he needed a plan.

“The mall,” Ray said. “We go in through the park and into the back entrance. No one drives through there. We lose anyone who might be tailing us, and we can decide what to do next.”

“If you say so, bud. My ankle is killing me. I just want to sit and take a breather.”

They pedaled off down the small slope back towards St. Joseph Street. Cars blitzed past the four way intersection as the duo waited at the stop sign. Ahead lay to possible destinations: the park in one direction and the mini-mall from Friday in the other. The mini-mall wouldn’t have enough cover: they needed to head for the real deal. Traffic was a bit busier than Ray expected, but not enough to throw off anyone potentially following them. Getting out of sight was the priority.

When the break in traffic came, the pair crossed the street and traveled left down the sidewalk towards the park. More apartment buildings met them in their journey, as did a familiar convenience store. The two turned between the buildings and rolled down a gravel path beyond recently trimmed overhanging brush into the park. Lush shrubs and old park benches met them as they glided through the stifling summer day.

It wasn’t a big park, though it was certainly an active one. At least two dozen kids climbed the jungle gym, running around in circles like wild apes. They hopped on the benches and swayed with the large swing sets in their own mad rhythms. This lot appeared to be part of some sort of playgroup from Centennial Elementary or the preschool as Ray didn’t recognize any of them. Nonetheless the pair rode past the crowd towards their destination. At least they would make good cover.

Across from the park they rode up a steep dirt hill through a torn opening into the fenced-off parking lot. Dirt kicked up under their tires. There they reached the rear entrance of the mall. Ray and Andrew glided towards the bike rack nearby and took a deep breath when they realized they could finally stop pedaling.

The duo parked their bicycles and relaxed. The barren backlot allowed them to sit at one of the two picnic tables placed by the lone line of parked cars. Most of the people who came here used the lot in front which meant privacy for anyone who came through this way. The thick line of brush on one side, and a large building on the other definitely helped. The two boys took advantage as they finally allowed themselves to breathe. Andrew rubbed his right ankle and Ray let his lungs catch up with the rest of him. It took about a minute before either spoke again.

“Put your ankle up, Andrew. You don’t want that sprain to get worse.”

“I’ve had worse.” Andrew complied with his friend's wishes by sitting on the shaded grass and placing his leg up on the bench of the table. “It’s not that bad, but I could use some ice.”

“Got any money?” Ray asked. “I don’t have much left since the movie on Friday.”

“I have a couple of bucks. Not enough for a . . . compress? Is that what it's called?”

“Well, I was thinking I’d get ice from the food court. I’ve barely got enough change, though.”

Andrew handed Ray a few dollar bills. “Keep the change. I’m not going anywhere ever again anyway. Not after today.”

“I’ll be right back.” Ray took out Lenny’s red book and nodded to his prone friend. “Stay still.”

"Funny guy."

The book burned in Ray’s torn up palms as he held it tight. While he moved through the rear entrance and passed the nearby phone booth he flipped through the pages trying to see if he recognized any names. That was difficult to do while he weaved through the packed crowds of the mall. This place was always packed on the weekends, and today was no different.

He had been to this mall hundreds of times, but it wasn’t all that impressive. Ray had visited so many of these things while on vacations and on cross-country trips with his extended family that he knew just how lame this one actually was. This was really just a glorified hallway with far too many boring clothes stores.

But it didn’t bother him. Since Burroughsvale wasn’t that big to begin with, neither was the mall. This building was comprised of a single floor that only had a thin row of stores along each side of a lone hall. It stretched about half a block, but for this town it was enough. The main attraction was the Woolworth that closed back when he was in third grade, but kids still poured in for the food court and the arcade at lunch and after school. The place being down the street from his own elementary school and the big school for the older kids probably helped.

“Hey, Ray, tell your mom I said hi!” a middle-aged woman said as he walked by. He waved back to her as he slipped through the crowd. Vera Tracey was apparently out with her two kids, checking the dollar store like she usually did. “Have a good day!”

This was June, summer vacation, which meant the flood of younger people and their mothers didn’t surprise him. They walked the mall, swarming in and out of the book store, the Electronic Boutique video game establishment, and even the pet shop. Ray didn’t have time for any of that today. He had a mission.

The food court in the Burroughsvale Mall was more or less a circle with a cache of tables littered in the center. Most of the stores were packed, leading him to believe it must have been around lunchtime. Without his watch he couldn’t be sure. That trek in the apartment already felt as if it had happened hours ago. He approached the Pizza Barn stall and waited behind a teenage couple, a sixth grader he hardly recognized outside of school, and a granny in a floral shirt and done-up grey hair. The noise in this place was oddly soothing, contrasting against the quiet of Lenny's place and the dread of the radio broadcast that stuck to him like dried sweat.

For once he could think of summer vacation and how things would soon go back to normal again. The sun, the happy faces, and the bustling activity, reminded him that the world really was a place of hopeful energy and smiles like Mom had said. He could forget about the Y Signal for at least a second. Hey, wasn't that Kristin Oliver over at the pet shop? Maybe he could--

Does the number nine-eleven mean anything to you? It should, because it means something to those who wish you dead.

Ray blinked. He scanned over the crowded food court. No one was using the speaker system. Where did that voice come from?

Do you get it yet, listeners? Yugoslavia is going to be shattered! A Canadian terrorist is going to blow up a Montreal bus in 1996. A falling satellite is going to crush a small village outside of Dusseldorf. Wait until you see what a simple Bird Flu will do to Hong Kong. The world is over. You can’t go back to your normal life and pretend it's all okay. It's not! It’s a lie. but you know this, whether you want to accept it or not. The last train rolls in tonight. Will you board it?

“Oh no,” Ray whispered. It was Yarbrough. The voice played overhead as if projecting through the PA system, but no one else appeared to hear it. They just went on doing what they always did, munching on their lunches and chatting away about summer reruns and sports. Why was it that only Ray was being subjected to this? Perhaps it wasn't real at all. Maybe he was just going mad. “Please, just go away already.”

I have the way out—the way out of the oncoming Armageddon. Follow me there. Tonight, we take the last train home.

“Where are you?” Ray asked.

“Hey, kid,” the cashier said. The middle-aged fat woman stared down at him from behind the counter, her large fingers tapping on a plastic tray. She wore a green cap and matching apron with the Pizza Barn logo on it and looked like she wanted to be anywhere else. “Are you gonna order or what? I've got places to be.”

Ray shook the rattling thoughts of doomsday from his head. “Sorry, ma’am.”

After being handed the cup and the pizza slice on a paper plate, Ray paid the annoyed woman, and slunk out of the food court. He made a beeline back out of the mall towards his injured friend, ignoring the world around him. He couldn't deal with this. Not now. Yarbrough’s voice had disappeared, but Ray's mind began to twist in weird ways.

The boy remembered odd visits with Lenny where he would talk about old food places that hadn’t existed since the older cousin was a kid himself. How they would come up, do well, vanish, and never be heard from again. It seemingly happened overnight. Names like G.D Ritzy, Gino’s Hamburgers, and Wag’s, which Lenny had discovered in his many journeys all disappeared from the collected consciousness. Sometimes he wondered if they really existed to begin with. Perhaps none of this was real. Now Ray questioned if he was experiencing the same thing. But that was crazy, right? Lenny was just the black sheep.

Nonetheless, he couldn't help but ponder on it. Did that mean all these places Ray knew so well might one day go away as well?

Ray fought the urge to look back at the food court. It would be there the next time he returned, and it always would be here in Burroughsvale no matter how much time had passed. Lenny was just being weird and it was rubbing off on his exhausted cousin. Once they found that jerk this would all get straightened out. Nothing was ending tonight. The world would go on same as it always did, and always would. Things changed, sure, but that didn’t mean they went away. Progress can’t just cast things aside or else it isn’t progressing to anything. People would never forget what mattered, how else would they learn? His mother always said so. She never steered him wrong. Parents knew everything, much as he hated to admit it.

Outside, Ray handed Andrew his paper plate and drink. Andrew dumped the soda and wrapped the ice in the paper plate. He kept his ankle elevated as he held the ice over his sock. Ray’s friend attempted to give him back the slice of pizza, but when Ray refused he ended up shoving the piece into his own mouth. It was just as well. Andrew needed the energy right now, not him.

“Did you get to take a look through the book?” Andrew asked between bites.

“No, I was a bit . . . distracted.”

“Better late than never, bud. Give it a look. We have all the time in the world.”

“Maybe not.”

“What do you mean?”

“Never mind. It's nothing.”

Ray dug into the book and poured through the names. He didn’t know any of these people, and at this point wasn’t even convinced they existed, or if anything did, and yet he was certain this Billy character that Lenny mentioned on Friday had to be in there. Lenny didn’t lie, even if he was insane. Eventually, Ray reached the only promising name. William Thwombly was listed beside a nickname that read Spikes. Ray traced the number with his finger.

While Andrew finished up his slice, Ray entered the phone booth beside the mall’s rear entrance and dialed the number.

The phone clicked on the fourth ring and a deep voice spoke on the other end. “Who is it?

“Is this Spikes?”

No. I’m an adult and this is 1995, kid. I don’t go by that name anymore.

“My name is Ray. This is about my cousin Lenny. He said Billy wanted an update. Is that you?”

A pause on the other end caused Ray’s breath to stiffen. For a second he thought he had been disconnected, losing his only living lead. Billy made a strange sound that could have been considered a cough and sucked on his teeth. It felt like an eternity before he spoke again. “I’ll give you my address. Make sure no one follows you.

After scribbling down the address this Spikes guy gave him, Ray didn’t even have the chance to ask another question before Billy told him not to call again and hung up. Whoever this guy was, paranoia was his middle name.

Andrew waited by the picnic table for his friend to return. He kept the ice on his ankle as he sat there nodding his head to an invisible beat. “I take it that you didn’t get anything?”

“No, I did. It’s just . . . it was weird. That guy sounded bored and annoyed until I mentioned my cousin. Then it was like he got a shot in the arm.”

“Lenny has some weird friends. Makes sense, since he's a nutjob. Are we going?”

“No other choice. I’m not risking a ride back home just yet. Those guys might still be out there hovering around St. Hubert. Whoever they were. We should stay away from that part of town for now. No one’s at home, anyway.”

“That means this guy doesn’t live near your cousin? I really don't want to go across town again.”

“He lives right over there, man.”

The directions Billy gave were fairly straightforward. In fact, they led back to one of the apartment buildings beside the very park they passed through. The two of them didn’t have to go far. Ray appreciated the short distance since Andrew wouldn’t need to move as much. The last thing Ray wanted to do was leave his friend alone alone or send him back home with those creeps somewhere out there. Leaving Andrew injured, defenseless, and on his own would be a punk move. Lenny would have looked down on him, too.

It only took two minutes to ride over to the apartment just behind the park. None of the kids reacted to their return, if they even remembered who they were to begin with, which made slipping into the building as easy as a free credit game at the arcade. Andrew hobbled a bit after him, but barely acted any different from his usual self otherwise. Ray's friend had quite the pokerface when he wanted one. You would never guess he just faced down death.

“You okay, Andrew?”

“Ankle’s not swollen, I’m good. I just want to keep off of it.”

Ray hit the buzzer at the front door and it clicked open almost instantly. Had this Billy guy been waiting since he called? Ray hoped this might be a sign that they would get in and out of there quick. He’d had enough running around for one summer, even if it was still only June.

Billy’s apartment was thankfully on the first floor, which meant a short walk. They crossed the small atrium of wide open black stairs and matching potting plants on either side. It was cheaper looking than Lenny’s building yet it felt somewhat livelier with the sounds of squawking kids and Sunday afternoon movies playing off too loud televisions. Having the park behind the building and a busy street nearby probably helped to liven this area up. Nonetheless, the duo only had to travel two doors over from the entrance before they reached the right apartment.

When Ray knocked on the door he wasn’t that surprised to see it answered so fast. No, he was far more surprised by the man who answered it.

Billy was surprisingly short, though with a bit of muscle under his too long t-shirt and torn jean shorts. He was not that much taller than the two boys. The long dark hair draping his face made it hard to see his green eyes under the mop. They looked somewhat unfocused as if they hadn't been allowed rest in far too long. He scratched the stubble on his chin as he looked them over.

“Take me to the radio,” Billy said.

“Well,” Ray began. He debated with himself about whether to tell the truth or not. He decided finding his cousin mattered more than testing his wits against Lenny's friends. “I have it on me.”

“Even better,” Billy replied. “We don’t have a lot of time if we want to catch up with Lenny.”

Ray and Andrew followed Lenny’s friend into the one bedroom apartment that had the blinds drawn. The lack of sunlight blocked much of the interior’s view. Not that it mattered since he only had a chair and a couch in the living room beside a pair of small tables. The two sat down on the bigger piece of furniture and Billy fell into the small chair by the darkened window.

“Do you have an icepack?” Andrew asked. “Not to be a jerk, but I could use one for my foot.”

“Sure.” Billy departed into the kitchen with relative quickness. He shuffled around a drawer and the freezer for a few seconds before he emerged with the ice pack and some cubes in a small plastic bag. Lenny’s friend handed them to Andrew. “Might want to sit on the floor and put that ankle up. Sorry if that sounds rough. This ain't the Ritz.”

“Why are you called Spikes, Billy?” Ray asked. “You don’t look very spikey.”

“My hair used to be up, and a different color. That was back when we . . . it’s ancient history, kid. Forget that. How do you know who I am, anyway? I asked Lenny never to tell anyone I was in this nowhere town for a reason. He mentioned this place he grew up in so many times back in the day and somehow I still moved here before he did. No idea why he waited so long to tell me about this Y Signal business either.”

Ray tried his best to explain everything since his wild Friday night, from the meeting with Lenny, to the dream, to escaping the apartment not even hours before. Even though he experienced it himself it was very hard to accept what actually occurred as reality. A part of Ray insisted he just had some sort of intense fever brought on by staying up too late, but a bigger part of him knew that definitely wasn’t true. The Y Signal had an answer for all of this, and that scared him more than any other possibility he could dream up.

Billy stared at Ray with half-closed lids as the boy spoke. The disheveled man's eyes nearly rolled back in his head. It was as if he was simultaneously enthralled and bored by the story. He was definitely Lenny's friend.

When the pesky kid finished, Spikes stood up from his chair. “Bring out the radio, boys."

Ray and Andrew exchanged glances. He believed this nonsense all too easily. Ray’s friend cleared his throat. “For what?”

“You'll see. Set it up. I’ll be right back.”

The man formerly known as Spikes slunk into his bathroom and closed the door. Ray did what Billy told them to and set up the radio on the small table by the window. While he reached down to plug it in, a buzzing sound screeched from Billy’s bathroom. A shaver? Ray tried to put this weirdo out of his mind and remind himself why he was there to begin with.

Andrew watched the radio like a mouse watches a housecat. “Didn’t you say that the Y Signal has to wait until after midnight?”

“Yes,” Ray said. “I thought he knew that. He is Lenny’s friend, after all. The guy looks a bit out there, but Lenny always ran with an odd crowd. He is the black sheep, remember?”

“This psychopath doesn’t even have any pictures up his wall or books or movies or any shelves to put them on. It's like he just moved in here yesterday. This isn't right. Maybe we should just leave, man. Are you sure you saw what you think you saw on Friday night? Maybe you just ate a bad clam or whatever.”

“No,” Ray replied. He finished propping the radio beside the window before he continued. “I thought I might be crazy, but there is too much happening at once. Why was that punk guy at Lenny’s apartment to begin with? Why did he chase us? Who was the other guy that kicked the door down? Why did my cousin meet with us on Friday in the first place? Why did he tell me to contact this guy if we didn't see him again? I need to know, Andrew. You can go home if your ankle is feeling any better. I’ll do this on my own if I have to.”

“After nearly breaking my leg following you off a cliff? I’ll stay right here, thank you.”

"Your funeral."

"Yeah, probably."  

The bathroom door swung open. Billy emerged with a freshly shaven head, revealing the pale white scalp that had once held his long dark hair not even minutes earlier. For a second, Ray regretted not heeding his friend’s words to abandon this place.

“That’s been bothering me for a while,” Billy said. “Finally time for a fresh start.”

“Okay, weirdo.” Andrew pointed to the radio. “Why do you want this thing so bad?”

“Because it’s a doorway, stupid. Now, get out. This isn’t for kids. Lenny must have told you that much. You wouldn’t understand any of this, and I can't even begin to.”

Ray waved Billy off. “It's my cousin that's missing, remember? I told you what I saw when I heard that creepy radio show the other night. It's dangerous. I have to find him and see if he's okay. I need to know the truth.”

"He is okay."

"How do you know?" Ray bit the inside of his cheek. "After all this craziness I've been through you can't expect me to believe that just by you saying it. Put yourself in my shoes. How would you react? Tell me where Lenny is, Spikes."

Billy stared blankly ahead for what felt like an eternity. It was impossible to tell if he was thinking of what to say or if he had forgotten where he even was. It didn't look like he'd thought about much in a long time, not with that empty glare on his face. Finally, after far too long, Billy opened his mouth and licked his lips.

“You’ve got a comfortable life, kid. You guys are lucky. This is a good town; I’ve seen it for the short time I’ve been here. You have family, friends, and a solid community that functions. Here is what you don't get, though. Most of that is gone outside of a few towns like this. You haven’t seen what we have—what we know is coming. Cherish what little time you’ve got left with those still here. Lenny’s already left this world behind and he isn't coming back. I’m next and so are many others. Come midnight, we’ll all be in a better place. A place where we belong. Just go home and forget you’ve seen anything.”

A dam broke in Ray's numb mind, and the heat rose in his gut. He bared his teeth at the bald punk. “Don’t give us that! After everything I've seen I deserve a real answer. Where are you planning on going? Why do you need the radio? Why did he leave in the first place?”

Billy rubbed the bridge of his nose and sighed. “I’m only going to say this once more. That particular radio is a doorway. Lenny used it to make preparations and since he didn’t come back that means he’s finished. The radio program tonight is the last broadcast. Those who listen will be taken away to the Real World, and they will never come back. If you go through with me, you can’t return. That’s it. There isn't anything else. I told you that you wouldn't get it.”

“Then who were those guys at the apartment?”

“Those who only know half the story. As you've already experienced, the Y Signal doesn't take to everyone. Some times it . . . changes them. This is why Lenny didn't just parade it around like he was some kind of prophet with the elixir of life or some junk. The people showing up around town recently are those unworthy of the Signal, and they don't even know it. They're just trying to find the source, kinda like you. They only want it far more. That’s why Lenny barely went out of his apartment. How else would you deal with that sort of thing?”

Andrew slapped his own forehead. “You all belong in the loony bin.”

None of this made a difference. Ray really didn't know if any of this made sense, but he still needed answers from the person who mattered the most here. There was little point arguing over this with someone like Billy. Lenny had always been there for Ray, and that was reality. Whatever problems his cousin had, the boy would be there for him now and in whatever future waited ahead. That was what family was for. The little help a soon-to-be sixth grader could offer his wayward black sheep cousin would have to do. Leaving him with Yarbrough and that strange ape thing in an impossible alien space was not something Ray was willing to do.

“Well, I’m going with you,” Ray said. “Andrew, stay here. I’m going to have to risk it for Lenny. He needs to hear from me how crazy he's being.”

“Be my guest,” Billy replied. He tweaked the volume knob on the radio. “But I warned you.”

“Plug your ears and don't look, Andrew.” Ray knelt by his friend. “You don’t want to go where this leads.”

Andrew's lips creased hard against his teeth. “But why do you want to go there again? I don’t quite get all this, and I really don’t know why you won’t let this go, at this point. We returned the radio, and we know your cousin is gone. He wanted to go, right?  Just leave it there.”

“I can’t. Lenny wouldn’t leave me.”

Andrew sighed. “Didn't he just do that? You've always been a bit gullible. Families really aren’t that simple like you think. One wrong turn and they can flip on you. But I already know what you're like when you make a decision. Either way, I’m not good for running right now, so I’ll have to stay here. Don’t get yourself killed out there.”

“After today, I don’t think anything could kill me.”

Andrew forced himself up and moved towards the bathroom. He plugged his ears and closed his eyes as he left the living room. “Just make it quick.”

Billy fiddled with the knob and turned down the volume. He paused before tuning it correctly. Lenny's friend and Ray leaned close when the bald punk finally flicked the power on. Andrew made sure to close the door.

“It’s going to turn off automatically in a minute regardless,” Billy called out to the closed bathroom. The bald punk leaned next to Ray. “No one is ever going to hear this again after it shuts itself down. Do you realize that? Last chance to turn back, kid.”

“Ready when you are, Spikes.”

“That man is dead. Whatever I am now will be revealed in mere seconds.”

With those words the radio's speakers screeched a soundwave of static. The universe faded around them. Before Ray knew it he was no longer in the apartment, or even on Earth. He had left the old world behind, and a gnawing feeling in his gut told him he would never return home again. He would float in this limbo for eternity. A swirling fuzz of static cartwheeled through his brain. This was the end of the line.

Nonetheless, Lenny waited far ahead of him, somewhere at the end of the world, and Ray would find him. There was no turning back now. The Y Signal awaited him. Within seconds he just knew that he would reach it, and everything would come into focus again. He had to keep the faith alive. Ray would finish this right here and right now. No matter what it took, Ray would pierce this static and learn the truth.

Somewhere far away he heard the howl of a train whistle. It was getting closer. Ray felt his fists tighten beside his numb body. The last train was just ahead.


  1. Glad I finally got time to reading this one!

    I'm stealing some of these ideas for my World of Darkness game.

    1. Be my guest, and thanks for reading!

      Last part is coming tomorrow.